Waterloo council to revisit backyard fire debate in the fall
WATERLOO -- Waterloo council has delayed any decisions in the backyard fire debate until at least the fall.
Council heard from a resident on Monday afternoon who wants backyard fires allowed in the city, as they are in Kitchener.
More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition asking for as much. They've now brought a formal request to council.
The petition organizer said it's a good outdoor activity during the pandemic because being outside is good for mental health and it presents an opportunity to take a break from using a screen.
"It's just a little fire that we can gather -- and when I say gather I don't mean bring all the neighbours over—as a family outside, getting fresh air, getting away from Netflix, getting away from our Xboxes and Fortnite and those things," said petition organizer Ryan Hammar during an interview with CTV Kitchener after the meeting.
Councillors said they've heard from many constituents about the issue as well. If you live in Waterloo, you can give your feedback, too.
The discussion and questions around allowing fires lasted for about two hours. Coun. Angela Vieth suggested at one point temporarily allowing backyard burns during the pandemic. That was ultimately decided against.
In a blog post, Ward 5 Coun. Jen Vasic said she did not support that proposal for a few reasons, citing staffing pressures, costs and conflicting resident opinions on the issue.
She said that as of Saturday, she had "received 63 emails with 32 people in support of lifting the ban, 25 people in opposition, and six people who were neither for or against, but provided some thoughts for consideration."
Other councillors raised concerns about safety and the impact on people with lung and breathing problems.
Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said many people are outspoken against the bylaw and the petition "speaks only for one side of the discussion." He added there are concerns about odour, asthma, noises and potentially encouraging gatherings during the pandemic.
In an emailed statement to CTV Kitchener, Jaworsky said the current bylaw says open air fires aren't allowed.
"If this bylaw was suspended, anyone could have a fire of any size, anywhere, anytime," his email read in part. "To figure out the appropriate rules, you have to do a consultation, and we are back to the same spot."
Council decided to have staff review the issue and return with more information in the fall.
"The delay is really to do with the province," Mayor Dave Jaworsky said. "The province is asking municipalities to deploy bylaw staff to enforce the provincial pandemic order on gatherings, so the bylaw team just a received a lot of priority work and they're focused on that right now."
"Being by a nice warm fire, you can't beat that and it's unfortunate that it's got to take the time that it's taking," Hammar said.
He said he's hopeful council will vote in favour of allowing backyard fires in the future. He said he's not giving up on the issue and is happy that council is looking into it.
Hammar said a fire would be a good outdoor activity during the pandemic.
"It's just a little fire that we can gather," he said. "When I say gather, I don't mean bring all the neighbours over. As a family outside, gathering fresh air, getting away from Netflix, getting away from our X Boxes and Fortnite and those kinds of things."
As part of Monday's discussion, councillors also passed a motion that staff start promoting the COVID-19-safe outdoor and virtual activities that the city already offers so people know more about the options available.